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The
 Silvanus 
Trevail Society

 

NEWSLETTER 2005

Contents

 

 

 

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I Remember When . . .  

Maisie Turner

 

 

I wish I’d paid attention

When mother reminisced,

Now no-one’s left to fill me in

On all the bits I missed.

There are many details missing,

Facts I can’t recall,

The Whens, the Whys and Wherefores

Now no-one knows at all.

When elders of the family

Began, ‘I remember When - - -‘

I’d raise my eyes to Heaven

And think ‘Here they go again!’

Oh! How I wish I’d listened,

Now they’ve all gone to earth,

I’ve lost a chunk of history

From times before my birth

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Summer walk in Camborne

Ann Perry

On a dry June evening in 2004 (which makes a change) the Society paid its first official visit to Camborne. A pure mining town, two hundred years ago Camborne scarcely existed, just a straggle of cottages and an ancient church. In the mining boom rows of terraced workers houses were built, along with large chapels, flamboyant shops and grandiose public buildings. It continued to prosper after the copper collapse of the 1860s due to the enterprise of Holman Brothers, local engineers who exported mining equipment to ‘Cousins Jacks’ around the globe. It was during this period that Trevail was commissioned to design a number of commercial and public buildings.

We started our walk at a historic site, the very road where Trevithick’s locomotive was seen ‘going up Camborne Hill coming down’ in 1801. This took us to the site of the Camborne School of Mines. The first School of Mines was built in 1883 and in 1894 Trevail drew plans for a substantial addition to include a smoking and card room, gym, billiard room and a library, as well as laboratories and a caretaker’s residence. A photograph shows an imposing granite building that would have been similar in appearance to the Josiah Thomas Memorial Hall which still stands next door. The school was demolished in the 1970s to make way for Tesco’s store and the site now houses a Wimpy bar and Job Centre.

We then moved on to look at the Assembly Rooms on Commercial Street. These were erected in 1866 by John Francis Basset and included the Town Hall and a Market Place. Trevail added an extension to the first floor, to include a Magistrates room and concert platform. It was between the clock tower and the market hall and blends in well with the original granite building, which is still in a good state of repair with few obvious changes to the external structure. In later years a skating rink was installed and the building was then used as a nightclub. At present it is empty awaiting a new operator.

On the opposite corner of Basset Road is the Fiddick and Michell shop and bank. Trevail designed this dominating curved 3-storey building in 1894. It consisted of a bank, manager’s house and shop. It still retains some of its former glory, the large elaborate arched window at the top, the granite pillars at the front entrance, but unfortunately the ground floor shops have installed unsympathetic modern fascia boards.

Further up Basset Road we came to the corner site of the Vivian Brothers shop that was demolished in 1987. The Vivian brothers, John and Frank, of Camborne and Dunedin House, London, were described as merchants who do a large business with Johannesburg and South Africa generally. Trevail designed a grand 3-storey building with a tearoom, workrooms, staff restrooms, millinery, drapery, carpets, etc. However, he caused many problems with his delays producing plans, so much so that Frank Vivian wrote ‘Life is short – may come to an end before plans arrive’. There were also delays in sending completion certificates, so that the builder was still seeking payment in May 1900. The total contract was £2785. The elaborately fitted interior was described by an awed customer as being ‘filled with wonderful machines for money and change which whizzed around the shop to and from the office’. Obviously a marvellous sight in 1897! On the opposite corner a shop still stands with elaborate terracotta decoration; together they must have given Basset Road a grand look, in keeping with the large houses that were built higher up by James Hicks, the Redruth architect.

We then went along Basset Street to see the group of buildings around the area of the Cross, at the junction of Trevenson Street, Cross Street and South Terrace. This must have been one of the most striking parts of Camborne at the turn of the 20th century, with the library on one corner, the Public Rooms on another and the Council offices on a third. Trevail was responsible for the design of the library and the Public Rooms, bringing a huge change to the appearance of the area.

The Camborne Public Rooms were built on the site of a Temperance Hall and when they were opened in 1891 they were said to be the largest public rooms in Cornwall, with a gallery, stage and dressing rooms and held early films, plays and lantern shows. The building is Norman in character, rather austere with plain towers, small windows and large arched doorways. As often happened with Trevail, things did not go smoothly and Mr Hicks, one of the County Surveyors, objected to the granting of a licence for stage plays because of various construction methods used, but Trevail was able to answer all his objections so a licence was granted.  

Today the building is derelict, except for a small section used by a night club and the overall impression is further depressed by the large building behind, also empty, which was erected by Holmans in 1939-40 when they were using the public rooms for their engineering works and a small museum.

The foundation stone of the Public Rooms was laid by Sir George Trevelyan in 1890, the day after he had opened the Liberal Club in St Austell, where he had praised Silvanus Trevail and said that he ‘possesses one of the qualities of the old Italian architects, that of being able to raise a very fine building on a confined space’.

This was to prove an invaluable gift when Trevail designed the Passmore Edwards Public Library in 1894. The library is an interesting asymmetrical design with a square tower above the entrance and a Dutch-gabled end, which fits the awkward corner site. Inside the building appears to have altered little and still has the original staircase. The building cost £2,000 and this was to be one of the many occasions when Trevail had difficulty obtaining his fees. He presented an account for £105, the Council offered £80, Passmore Edwards thought this was too much and so Trevail settled for £70, not wishing to offend his patron. Passmore Edwards was to be disappointed in the Town Council’s interest in the library, as by 1898 they had closed the newsroom.  

We then walked back along Cross Street to Chapel Street, to look at No 12 (originally No 6) a residence built for Mr AJ Tangye. We have no date for this house but Mr Tangye was a lessee of the market and Assembly Rooms and this commission may have followed Trevail’s work there; as often happened with Trevail, one commission in an area led to another. The house stands next to the large Wesleyan Chapel and the front appears little changed with a large central doorway and now occupied by a solicitor.

In recent years Camborne has had a woebegone look, a sad shadow of its former prosperity. Now, however, although some of the buildings we looked at are empty, like the Assembly Rooms, or derelict like the Public Rooms, Camborne is looking towards the future. There have already been changes to Chapel Street and Trelowarren Street and the local Town Council has recently approved the proposed Camborne Town Centre Conservation area. There has been a lot of positive input from local bodies, the Chamber of Commerce and the Town Council and so perhaps one day will see the Trevail buildings restored to their former glory.

As usual our thanks go to Hazel for leading the walk and giving us an insight into Camborne a hundred years ago.

 

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Spreading the word about Trevail

Hazel Harradence

As the influence of the Society grows, we are receiving more opportunities to publicise the Trevail’s achievements. The Society would like to thank Cornwall Legacy who invited it to share a stall at the Dehwelens May weekend celebration at Newquay, attended by Cornish people from all over the world. Hazel filled 2 ½ meters of wall space with Trevail illustrations and information. Society members were also invited to a Thanksgiving service in Luxulyan Church (Trevail’s parish church) as part of their Feast Week, which Hazel and Pauline Howard attended.

In October, Hazel took part in a History Display organised by St Austell Civic Trust and conducted a Trevail walk in the town. The following month she gave a talk and slide show to St Columb Major Old Cornwall Society. Hazel also put a request for information on Trevail houses at Trebarwith Strand and village in the autumn issue of the Journal of Old Cornwall Societies. Unfortunately they somehow managed to spell his name with a ‘y’!

On the literary front, an article on the progress of the database was published in the autumn edition of the Journal of the Cornwall Association of Local Historians. Where there was also a plea for help in ‘stamping out’ the practice of spelling Silvanus with a ‘y’. The same issue contained an article by Ronald and Hazel on the 1890s Cornish hotel boom that highlighted Trevail’s outstanding contribution. Another request for writings on Trevail came when Newquay Tourist Association, alerted by Dick Edwards-Collins to the importance of Trevail’s work in that resort, asked for information on Trevail. Ronald wrote four pieces for them that have been serialised in their newsletter.

Information on Trevail buildings in Truro was requested by Bob Richards, who has now had published a new book on Truro, entitled ‘Truro, A History and Celebration’, available from Ottakars. There is a new Francis Frith book entitled ‘From Newquay to St Ives’ that includes a very good photograph of the original Great Western Hotel, but does not unfortunately mention it was designed by Silvanus Trevail.

 

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News of Trevail Buildings

Hazel Harradence

We try as far as possible, to keep track of what is happening to various Trevail buildings around the County and beyond. Some are more newsworthy than others, but in the past year there have been changes to some of the buildings we have visited in the past. 

Pentowan at Newquay, former home of George Hicks and lately a residential home, is in the process of being converted into apartments. It is still owned by Annabelle Bennetts, who ran the residential home and who has lived on the premises since she was a child, Annabelle is adamant that many of the original features will be retained, and many that were covered over or removed will be re-instated. Unfortunately the conservatory is in too bad a condition to be repaired and will have to be demolished.  

 

The St Austell Public Rooms, used by Courts Furniture for many years will soon be empty, its future unknown at the moment.

St Guron’s, Bodmin, the home of Miss Collins (the lady who intended using the sink from her previous home to save money) has been sold by Fiona Winter to developers. They are a local firm who specialise in converting old buildings without destroying their heritage. They have assured us that the respect they show to the building will add to the appeal of the apartments.

Mevagissey Cemetery Chapel let by Restormel Council for a carpentry shop has had the interior fittings of pews, panelling and preacher’s desk taken out and auctioned. Thanks to astute bidding by Ed Harradence, husband of Hazel, three Society members now own some of his furniture.

The Foster complex has not been granted listed building status after the inspection and report said it did not satisfy the criteria for a hospital built within this period.

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Silvanus Trevail and the 1890s Hotel Boom

Ronald Perry & Hazel Harradence

This is an abridged version of a talk given to the Silvanus Trevail Society’s Annual General Meeting in May 2004.

What caused the flurry of hotel construction in the 1890s that dominate stretches of the Cornish coastline to this day? And what part did Silvanus Trevail play in it?

Cornwall made a late entry into the Victorian holiday market, the last county to be connected to the English railway network, at a time when easy rail access was the key to tourist growth. So when Brunel finally bridged the Tamar in 1859 and locomotives from up-country steamed into Cornish towns for the first time they were greeted with flags and bunting, brass bands and fireworks as well as public dinners at which an era of unparalleled prosperity was predicted. To exploit the anticipated explosion two large custom-built hotels were erected, the Queen’s at Penzance and the Falmouth Hotel, which were followed, when branch lines were built, by the Tregenna Castle at St Ives, the Great Western Hotel designed by Trevail at Newquay and the Fowey Hotel.

But while Cornwall had been cut off from the English railway network, fishing villages in Dorset, Somerset and Devon had already developed an infrastructure of hotels, elegant promenades and popular entertainment that Cornish resorts, with the possible exception of Penzance, could not match. Moreover the Great Western Railway’s policy of stopping over at every possible point meant that travel to Cornwall was tedious, while the absence of corridor trains necessitated comfort stops for the long distance traveller. It was hardly surprising that visitors were loath to spend time and money in voyaging onwards to Cornwall.

However as better-off visitors, finding their traditional resorts invaded by working-class day-trippers, were looking for remoter watering holes, the Great Western Railway promised to improve their service, while conversion of its broad gauge to the smaller English standard was also expected to bring through trains from central England. Rumours abounded to of a rival line, masterminded by the London and South West Railway, that would bring visitors to the north coast of Cornwall as far as Newquay and then down to Truro.

Anticipating these improvements, the most ambitious hotel scheme yet was announced, nothing less than a chain of hotels to circle the coast of Cornwall. Uniform in size, amenities and tariffs, the hotels were intended to enable visitors to move from one to another as the mood took them, and as well as offering economies of scale to the hotel promoters. A commonplace idea now, it was a revolutionary concept in the Cornwall of the day. Too adventurous in fact, for its originator, Silvanus Trevail only managed to raise enough to finance one hotel, the Atlantic at Newquay. Nevertheless, with typical panache, and against the advice of the Directors of his company, he made it the largest hotel Cornwall had ever seen. Derided by Newquay people as a white elephant, ‘Trevail’s Folly’, it was an overnight success. Hotel promoters aimed at a net profit of at least ten per cent a year to cover a dividend, satisfactory to ordinary shareholders, of five per cent or so. The Atlantic made profits of twelve per cent in the first ten months of trading, rising to over 20 per cent a year towards the end of the decade.

Who financed the 1890s boom?

Trevail’s success inspired industrialists, bankers, merchants and farmers to join forces with landowners, who wished to enhance the value of their properties, and up-country speculators, in building new hotels. Cornish brewers play an important part, the Redruth Brewery controlling a network of over a hundred outlets of various kinds, including many modest sized inns, from Penzance to Plymouth, while the St Austell Brewery also expanded territorially on a smaller scale. Trevail wanted to share in this expansion but his Directors, despite the success of the Atlantic Hotel, refused to build anymore. They were fond of quoting the Cornish motto of solidarity, ‘One and All’ Silvanus remarked, but when it came to building hotels their motto was ‘One, that’s All’.  

The Falmouth Hotel Company built the Pendennis Hotel on a nearby site and a St Ives group, headed by the shipping magnate Edward Hain erected the Porthminster Hotel on another position Trevail had earmarked, forcing him to built at Carbis Bay. But at least he had the satisfaction of designing the Pendennis. He also formed a company to open a hotel on the Lizard called the Housel Bay.

Trevail then embarked upon his two greatest ventures, King Arthur’s Castle Hotel at Tintagel and the Headland Hotel at Newquay, where Michael Williams, member of one of Cornwall’s richest families, headed another company that built the 50 bed-roomed Victoria Hotel. Other consortia planned hotels at Watergate Bay, Padstow and Bude, where Trevail designed the Globe Hotel for Walter Hicks of St Austell Brewery. Along the south coast, the Falmouth Hotel Company added a large extension and other groups erected big hotels on the Lizard at Poldhu, Mullion Cove and Coverack. The Wicketts of Redruth Brewery had a hand in most of these and Walter Hicks opened the Ship and Castle at St Mawes, designed by Trevail.

The bubble bursts.

At the turn of the century, however, financial problems began to raise their head. On the south coast the Falmouth Hotel and the Fowey Hotel reported falls in revenue, the Coverack Hotel made losses in the first few years of operating and its planned extensions were delayed. And while the Headland at Newquay opened strongly with an eight per cent profit in the first six months of trading from July 1900, it made only two per cent in 1901 and five per cent in the following year, and a director had to inject his own capital into the venture to pay part of a large debt owing to the building contractor. King Arthur’s Castle Hotel fared even worse, going into liquidation in 1903. Of the big Newquay hotels, only the Atlantic continued to prosper, although the Victoria managed to declare a modest four per cent dividend.

What went wrong? Trevail blamed everything from the Boer War to the poor quality of the dining service on the Great Western trains, but a perennial problem of the modern hotel trade was already apparent; its strong seasonality. A typical north coast hotel could only reply upon a full summer occupancy rate for seven weeks, a half full rate for ten weeks and only four visitors a week for the rest of the year. Moreover tourism had become a cutthroat business, with hoteliers in other regions getting together to create distinctive holiday images and target particular segments of the tourist market. The Devon Association advertised Pilgrim Tours for American visitors to ‘Glorious Devon’. But Cornwall’s problem was that its tourist operators lacked the unity of effort needed to promote its considerable climatic and cultural selling points. An attempt to form a Cornish Association with Arthur (later Sir Arthur) Quiller-Couch as Chairman failed because of a lack of agreement among tourist operators. Some wanted to march under a ‘West Country’ promotional banner alongside Devon, others preferred to go it alone as individual resorts or hotels.

Trevail alone among holiday developers showed any imagination to play Cornwall’s trump card, its Celtic heritage. His King Arthur’s Castle Hotel featured medieval embellishments, furniture and fittings, including a gigantic Round Table with place names for Queen Guinevere, Sir Lancelot and the other Knights. Guests, Trevail announced, were to be summoned to dinner by heralds sounding trumpets instead of ‘a common dinner-gong’. Although a few developers such as Trevail designed estates with seaside esplanades and tree-lined boulevards bordered by hotels, mansions, villas and elegant terraces, none of them left the drawing board. Cornwall’s new holiday resorts grew in an uncoordinated, higgledy-piggledy way.

Cornwall’s competitive edge was also blunted by a puritanical streak in the local populations. The Housel Bay Hotel on the Lizard got off to a slow start because its Chairman, RG Rows, an influential farmer and County Councillor, was also a pillar of the Temperance Movement and refused to apply for a liquor licence. After James Wickett of the Redruth Brewery family took over as Chairman it did much better. Hain ran into similar difficulties at the Porthminster admitting that, while local guide-writers loyally called St Ives ‘the Naples of North Cornwall’ its night –life was decidedly lacking in Neapolitan gaiety. Falmouth Quakers, while funding the Falmouth and Pendennis Hotels, opposed the use of the Polytechnic hall for theatrical performances, to the annoyance of local business.

Moreover while Cornwall’s leaders praised the public spirit of hoteliers in bringing employment to stricken areas, some local communities fiercely resisted the erection of hotels on land used by fishermen to spread their nets, by small holders to graze their livestock and by Sunday Schools to hold their tea treats. The flamboyant structures that Trevail constructed on the most prominent and sensitive sites also shocked Cornwall’s literati and early environmentalists. Arthur Norway, maritime historian and guide-writer warned that soon every field along the coast would be sold to jerry-builders. Quiller-Couch, Cornwall’s foremost man of letters, although supporting tourism in principal, remarked that the only reason visitors stayed in these ‘monster hotels’ was so they could admire the view without having to look at them. To stop further development, the newly formed National Trust acquired coastal land.

Meanwhile snail-like progress of the North Cornwall Railway held back tourist growth. Passenger numbers were disappointing and local investors failed to match their enthusiasm for the line with hard cash. When the railway finally arrived at Padstow and was greeted by the usual public celebrations and predictions of massive growth, the Directors dashed the hopes of hoteliers in Newquay and points west by announcing that it would go no further. Meanwhile the Great Western railway seemed in no hurry to complete its new branch line from Truro to Newquay, and did not reach that town until 1905. Trevail took some of the blame for this since he had blocked an earlier scheme for a direct Newquay to Truro line.  

Municipal intrigue also delayed Trevail and pushed up construction costs. An irony not lost on him was that while Newquay Council, chaired by the influential Michael Williams, delayed progress (quite illegally as it turned out) on the completion of Trevail’s hotel by refusing arrangements for drainage, another Newquay group, also chaired by Williams, was forging ahead with a 50-bedroom development, the Victoria. Designed by Sanson of Liskeard, it opened before the Headland, although Trevail had been first in the field.

To put Cornwall’s and Trevail’s achievements into perspective, Cornish hotels and resorts were modest by the standards of other regions. The largest hotels cost between £7,000 and £20,000, compared with the £70,000 of the Imperial Torquay back in 1863 or the estimated £60,000 of the Grand Hotel Guernsey in 1898. In size they ranged from 30 to 50 bedrooms, a far cry from 120 in the Runnemede at Ilfracombe, 450 in the Metropole at Folkestone or 750 in the Russell in London. Similarly Newquay, rising star of the Cornish holiday trade, a town of 4,000 people, and Bude with 2,000, were dwarfed by Torquay or Eastbourne with 35,000 or Bournemouth with 70,000.

Nevertheless the construction of so many fine hotels in 1890s, virtually all of them still standing over a hundred years later, is a tribute to the enterprise and skills of the Cornish adventurers, architects and builders, led by Silvanus Trevail, who had the courage to design and finance them at a time when the local economy was at a low ebb.

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September Motor Tour

Hazel Harradence

Lack of space and a scribe with time to write an article of reasonable length, limits this report to the barest details.

We started at St Mawgan in Pydar, a quiet unspoilt village not far from St Columb, where Trevail put a large extension onto William Butterworth’s school of 1863. All credit to Trevail for matching his work to the original so well that the building is listed, although the Society in 2002 had to persuade the DCMS to acknowledge Trevail by name.  

We moved on to St Merryn School, entirely Trevail’s this time, also listed with Trevail’s name being added in 2002. The master’s house has been incorporated into the school now, part of it being used for offices and teaching staff. A very large modern extension is being added to the rear of the building without spoiling the view of the original from the roadside.  

As always, a suitable hostelry was found for lunch, followed by a visit to Woodlands at Treator. Woodlands was a large house built for William M Richards JP, CCC. We were warmly welcomed by Hugo and Pippa Woolley who gave us a tour of the building. They enthusiastically explained work completed and plans for the future. The house has been a country hotel for some time, but not always with care. It is the intention of Hugh and Pippa that much of the old conversion work will be removed.

Our next stop was Padstow where we spent much time admiring Trevail’s school on the outskirts, also Listed. Last used as a school c1987 it is now converted and divided into about six separate dwellings, with several more built in the old playground. The alterations made to the old building would, of course, all have been subject to Listed Building Planning Consent, but we all felt that the work done appeared to have been of the highest quality and sensitively thought out. The design of the new buildings to the rear reflected and complimented Trevail’s style of the original.

A certain car advertisement on television shows a very proud youngster picked up from school in the new family car – well the school seen briefly in the background is Padstow.

This was the last official call of the day, but several of those present felt that a visit to Padstow would not be complete without a cream tea and duly went into town.

 

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